Eco News Q1 2021

Event of the Quarter:  President Biden signed the “Executive Order” re-joining the Paris Agreement the day after he was sworn in and appointed an experienced diplomat, John Kerry, as climate czar.

Polar Bears – Poster Child of the Consequences of Climate Change

Kerry immediately acknowledged “with pain and some embarrassment” that he would reverse the damage done by Donald Trump’s “reckless” withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and issued a forceful rallying call for global action: “failure is simply not an option”.

Mr Biden’s key climate pledges are to re-join the Paris Agreement (fulfilled in February); decarbonise US power generation by 2035; and achieve net zero emissions no later than 2050.

Another Event of the Quarter:  The extracts which follow are from The Hill We Climb, the poem by Amanda Gorman read at President Biden’s inauguration.  Does the call to action not resonate with the fight against both Climate Change and Covid-19?

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be
We know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birth right
When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

A Dark Side of Good: “We just can’t keep doing things the way we have always done them, otherwise our planet is going to be toast.”  

Those are the words of the chairman of one of the world’s leading iron ore mining groups as he explained the reason for his global search for hydro and geothermal sites. 

The good news is that more and more nations are setting themselves targets to be emission free by 2050; that the global shift out of fossil fuels is gathering momentum; that fund managers are encouraging investors to go “green”; that the big oil companies are swapping oil rigs for wind turbines; and that more governments are passing ESG rules into law.

The question is:  what does all that positivity mean for the Planet?  The pundits say it translates into its electrification and the expectation that by 2050 86% of all energy generated will be from sustainable sources.  That is without question very good news!

Source:  Historical data source: IEA WEB (2019), IRENA (2019)

It will be achieved they say by a variety of technologies, one of which is wind power, which by 2050 is forecast to represent 30 – 35% of all energy generated.  That is spectacular growth as shown by the graph.  Should we welcome it with bells and whistles?

It is magnificent machines like the Hispano-German Siemens Gamesa SG 14-222 DD and the American GE Haliade-X, the two most powerful wind turbines in the world, that will help achieve that forecast.  Just one single turbine of this kind can generate enough energy to supply 18,000 UK homes for one year and save the CO2 equivalent of emissions from 11,000 vehicles! 

The benefits are loud and clear.  They are impressive beasts.  They stand some 260 metres tall (Big Ben 96, the Shard 310), have blades ± 108 metres long, and need ± seven tonnes of “permanent magnets” for their generators. 

Source:  wordlessTech.com

Surely there cannot be dark sides to this happy scene?  But yes, there are.  The first is that its blades are indestructible, lightweight fiberglass.  The problems arise when blades break, turbines are decommissioned, or upgraded with larger, better designed blades. 

As the discarded blades cannot be recycled or repurposed, these huge (50 to 108 meters long) useless items are chopped up and sent to landfill.  Forecasts predict that 43 million tonnes of decommissioned blades will need to be disposed of by 2050, i.e. roughly sufficient blades with which to circle the Planet 86 times!

Source:  tapatalk.com
NB – The size of the bulldozer compared with the chunks of waste blade!

Homo detritus non-sapiens makes his mark.  Again!

The second dark side to this technology is that these magnificent machines use high performance “permanent magnets” in their generators.  These have huge advantages:  they eliminate gearboxes, lower costs and improve reliability.  

The concern is that these magnets are built with “rare earth elements” (REE).  REEs are used in a vast range of high-tech products for which there is increasing demand:  smart phones, computer hard drives, television screens, LED lights, MRI scanners, and solar panels.

They are in fact not rare, but relatively plentiful, widely dispersed and found in low concentrations.  Separating them from the surrounding rock is difficult, highly labour intensive and involves a mix of hazardous chemical compounds. 

Apart from the geopolitical struggles arising from China’s dominance of the REE market, scientists have repeatedly warned of the damage to the environment from topsoil removal and radioactive residues flushed away in waste water.

Rare Earth Element – Pollution

Source:  Euronews.com 

Yet as the transition to a clean energy future becomes a top priority for international bodies and governments the demand for REEs increases exponentially.  So much so that mining the oceans, the “new industrial frontier”, is being considered as a distinct possibility.

It beggars belief does it not?  We scar the land with negative consequences and now we wish to do the same to the ocean bed.  Why is it that such an intelligent species as ours is so unaware that such destruction is unsustainable? 

Better ways of generating electricity already exist:  hydrogen fuels cells.  Can governments and industry not band together, as they did for Covid-19 vaccines, and pour millions into perfecting and launching this technology?  It could be done well within the decade if there is the will.

Why allow homo detritus non-sapiens to trash the Planet?  He seems determined to make it “toast”! 

Gardening for Wildlife:  This article has been written for us by Helen Gillingham, chairperson of the Sustainable Food Group of Transition Town Wellington.  Helen is a full-time self employed beauty therapist who has a passion for the natural world and a real concern for the future of our planet and human civilisation.  She has been doing all she can to help reduce climate change and joined TTW 13 years ago.

We all know now how much nature is suffering from human activity, and so many people want to help, but sometimes it can feel like what we do as individuals isn’t enough.  But how about if we can all join forces and work together, to enhance nature across our whole town?

TTW had the idea to draw a wildlife map of Wellington, to show all our green space, and sightings of wildlife seen by local residents.  Many people got involved as we added symbols to the map, telling us their sightings on Facebook.  The map shows a flourish of wildlife sightings around the rivers and woodland, but they peter out further away.  Our gardens have the potential to provide fantastic habitats, but we need to link up with our neighbours and have gaps in our fences to create a chain across town, to enable wild creatures to roam.

To help people with a comprehensive guide to simple ways you can attract more wildlife into your garden, we created a “gardening for wildlife” booklet.  You can download our map and booklet here https://ttw.org.uk/wildlife-map-and-booklet-download

For better viewing of this image please zoom in 200x.

On the contents page, there are 30 boxes you can tick as you create different habitats in your garden.  We are awarding bronze, silver and gold star certificates to people getting involved, and encouraging people to work together with their neighbours to get a gold star, especially if their gardens are small.

Growing wildflowers could tick up to 6 boxes of the 30, so we are giving out free wildflower seeds to residents of Wellington and Rockwell Green, in exchange for their postcode.  Once people either get a gold star or create a wildflower patch in their garden, we will show these on a digital map on our new website (still under creation) wildlifemap.org.  In this way we will be able to see gardens creating green corridors across town, which will hopefully encourage more people to join in, as they can see their efforts are all part of the bigger picture.

We really hope Wellington will, in the years to come, become a place where wildlife flourishes, but just as we can connect up houses and gardens in Wellington, we would love to connect up with other towns all over the area.  So we are giving away the artwork for our booklet for other community groups to edit and make relevant for their own town, and have described step by step how you can draw a map, so this project can be recreated easily elsewhere.  Other groups can have their maps on wildlifemap.org too, so we can see how our whole area is working towards the same goal of helping nature and reversing biodiversity loss.

We have already had interest from some areas of Taunton, so please, if you’d like to join in, then get in touch via community.ttw@gmail.com.  We look forward to connecting with you!

How Old is My Hedge?:  It was an eccentric, pipe-smoking biologist of whom few have heard, Dr Max Hooper, who noticed that in the 1960ies the Ministry of Agriculture was giving farmers grants to make hedgerows disappear.  

The Ministry claimed that it was losing no more than a mere 1,000 miles of hedgerow a year.  Head of plant ecology at Wye College, Hooper doubted that this was true. 

He remembered that the RAF had trained its photo-reconnaissance crews by having them fly over and photograph the English countryside.  He tracked down the images they had taken in the 1940s and 50s and compared them with those of the ’60ies.  He discovered that hedgerows were being lost at the rate of 10,000 miles every year and challenged the Ministry. 

A national scandal erupted, and Hooper set to work!

That work led him to find that in general the older the hedge, the larger the number of animalsand plants associated with it due to its uninterrupted association with the landscape. 

After several years research in various parts of the country, he concluded that one additional species of shrub colonised a hedge every 100 years or so.  By pooling the data from hundreds of hedges he was able to suggest a rule of thumb guide to the age of hedges, which became known as Hooper’s Rule: 

The age of a hedge (in years) = the number of woody plant species in a 30-yard section x 110.

Hooper himself acknowledged that the rule was not fully reliable and could really only be used alongside other dating techniques such as local history, old maps, the study of field patterns and other flora in the hedge.  Nevertheless, it was considered sufficiently reliable to become part of the Hedgerow Regulations (1997).  Hooper was made an honorary fellow of the British Naturalists’ Association in 2007 and the Peter Scott Memorial Award in 2010.  He died in 2017, aged 83.

A new edition of his original work has been published by DEFRA and can be found on Hedgerow Survey Handbook (publishing.service.gov.uk).

How old is your hedge?

The Three R’s – Part 3, Reuse:  This article brings to a close Kim Martin’s reflections on the three “Rs”.  Kim is a member of QE’s Executive Committee. 

A Great Aunt in our family, well known for her thrifty behaviour, lived with her husband of many years in a house where the front room was only used on ‘special’ occasions.  One day her husband was knocked off his bicycle by a passing car and she received a new bicycle that was never unwrapped and kept in the front room.  The original bike was repaired and continued in use.  Now is this an example of reusing or re-cycling?

What is the difference between reuse and recycling?

Recycling means turning an item into raw materials which can be used again, usually for a completely new product.  This is an energy consuming procedure.

Reusing refers to using an object as it is without treatment.  This reduces pollution and waste, thus making it a more sustainable process.  Examples of recycled items include asphalt made from glass bottles, and insulation materials made from newspaper or plastic bottles.  Reused items can include glass milk bottles, egg cartons and anything that was obtained second hand, often furniture and clothing

Although recycling has been a staple of sustainable living for decades, it does have some downsides.  A large amount of energy is needed to transport, process and reassemble recyclable materials.  Particularly in the UK, recycling can still be a very expensive process.  And in some cases, especially with mobile phones and other electronic devices, it can be difficult.

Any item in good condition can be reused

The reusing process is not about repurposing the materials an object is made of, but repurposing the very object itself.  This includes buying and selling used goods and repairing items rather than discarding them.  There are several online platforms such as eBay and the Freecycle Network that can aid this through allowing users to sell or donate any unwanted items that are still in good condition.  Garage and car boot sales and charity shops offer the same opportunities in the ‘real’ world.

Reusing is better than recycling because it saves the energy that comes with having to dismantle and re-manufacture products.  It also significantly reduces waste and pollution because it reduces the need for new raw materials.

Reducing consumption can save even more energy and materials

The third R, reduce, is sometimes considered the most important—above reuse and recycle. In a straightforward way, this is because consuming fewer products will eradicate the need for them to be reused or recycled when we are done with them. Over time, it will even help reduce the number of energy and material-guzzling products that are produced at all.

The best way to do this is to make deliberate, informed choices about what we are consuming, and to place an emphasis on social and mental wellbeing over material wealth. 

As Oksana Mont of the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics says, “It is important that infrastructures and institutions develop towards enabling sustainable lifestyles and not consumerism.”

Logo courtesy of http://www.re-cycle.org/

The three R’s have been with us for many years but to quote Peggy Lee “Is that all there is?” Well, no, of course not, but it does form part of a descending hierarchy that is worth remembering.

  1. Prevention.  Do you really need that thing in the first place?
  2. Reduce.  If you have to then only consume what you absolutely need.
  3. Reuse.  Can it be re-purposed to do another job?
  4. Recycle.  Can it be recycled into another product?
  5. Energy recovery.  Can energy be extracted from its disposal?
  6. Landfill.  The end of the road…

A few years ago I donated a much loved mountain bike to Africa.  It went in a sea container with many others, and, after safety checks, they were donated to those that could not afford any transport.  That was reusing and re-cycling.  I just wish I had put a note in the seat post to the next owner.

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